Geopolitical Interests and Power Dynamics in West Asia
The transformation of West Asia’s political and social fabric is a central concern in international relations. A particular point of interest is the potential agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, along with the United States’ push to finalize it. The Israel-Saudi Arabia Agreement raises questions about the U.S.’s underlying interests in such deal.
In the context of regional and global politics, the United States prioritizes three key objectives. First, it seeks to limit China’s growing influence in West Asia. Second, it aims to contain the Islamic Republic of Iran. Lastly, it is focused on managing the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Interestingly, China has recently taken a leading role in resolving a significant West Asian crisis—specifically, the peace agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Following this, the Chinese Foreign Minister publicly critiqued the United States, stating that the world’s focus should not be solely on Ukraine. He further indicated China’s willingness to act as a mediator in another regional crisis: the conflict between Palestine and Israel.
The Tehran-Riyadh agreement shifted the dynamics in West Asia, reducing America’s role as Saudi Arabia’s protector against Iran and elevating China’s regional influence. This context makes the U.S. initiative to broker an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia more critical. Such an agreement could serve as a counterweight to China’s expanding presence in the region.
Moreover, the United States would regain some of its sway over Saudi Arabia, particularly in the realm of oil production. Given that Saudi Arabia is a major oil producer, U.S. influence could directly affect global oil and gasoline prices.
The U.S. Agenda: National Interests and Political Timelines
For U.S. President Joe Biden, orchestrating a successful agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia could be a significant foreign policy win. This achievement would likely boost his 2024 re-election campaign and appeal to specific voter groups.
Officials involved in the Israeli-Saudi negotiations have emphasized the urgency of concluding the agreement by next spring. Beyond that point, the U.S. presidential election will dominate Biden and Congress’s focus. It’s worth noting that Biden and the Democrats are still grappling with the legacy of previous agreements, particularly when compared to their Republican rivals. In 2020, led by Trump, the Republicans successfully normalized Israel’s relationships with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco.
Strategic Imperatives: Containing Iran and Ensuring Israel’s Security
A primary objective for the U.S. in brokering an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia is to contain the Islamic Republic of Iran. The strategy aims to establish a stable security framework in West Asia. This framework would enable countries to self-sustain their security while simultaneously fulfilling one of America’s major objectives: containing Iran.
In this context, the Ibrahim Pact takes on particular significance. One of its main goals is to create an Arab-Israeli alliance focused on countering Iran. The Biden administration feels compelled to continue this trajectory. This is largely because ensuring Israel’s security remains a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the region.
Personal relations between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be strained, but the issue of Israel’s security transcends personal or party politics. The overarching goal for American policy in the region is to ensure Israel’s safety, and that imperative remains constant, irrespective of the individuals in power.
Ensuring Israel’s security is not merely an option; it’s an obligation for successive American administrations. In a broader perspective, an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia could prompt other nations, like Indonesia and Pakistan, to join similar accords. Saudi Arabia maintains strong ties with these countries, making their inclusion more likely.
From the U.S. standpoint, such an agreement would stabilize the West Asian region. This stability would free up American focus for other global concerns: countering China in East Asia and the Pacific, and confronting Russia in the Ukraine conflict.
Obstacles in Finalizing the Israel-Saudi Agreement
However, there are significant hurdles to achieving this normalization. It’s doubtful that an agreement could be finalized in the short term, or before the U.S. presidential elections in November 2024. The most prominent obstacle involves Saudi Arabia’s demands for security assurances from the U.S., similar to those extended to NATO countries.
Should Saudi Arabia come under attack, the country is asking for a U.S. military intervention as a security guarantee. However, political experts largely agree that this request faces insurmountable challenges. For such a commitment to be official, it requires a two-thirds majority approval in the Senate. Given that the Democrats hold only 51 seats and that there is strong bipartisan opposition to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and role in the Yemen war, this is unlikely to happen.
Riyadh’s additional requests for a nuclear industry and easier access to advanced U.S. weaponry add more complications. Both the U.S. and Israel are wary of another nuclear power emerging in the region. Furthermore, if the U.S. accedes to Saudi Arabia’s requests, it risks setting a precedent for other nations to demand similar concessions.
Another roadblock is the issue of Palestine. The current Israeli government opposes the two-state solution proposed by Saudi Arabia. This stance is likely to further complicate negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Complex Regional Dynamics and Future Uncertainties
Lastly, Iran’s reaction cannot be ignored. Many experts speculate that an Israel-Saudi Arabia agreement could incite strong opposition from Iran. This could manifest directly, as seen in Iran’s 2019 attacks on Saudi oil facilities, or indirectly, through proxies like the Houthis in Yemen. If Saudi Arabia allies with Israel, Iran may perceive this as Saudi Arabia offering a platform for a quick Israeli strike against Iran, even if Saudi leadership does not intend it that way.
When the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel in 2020, both were careful to keep discussions on military cooperation with Israel vague, focusing on peace and stability. Therefore, the path to an Israel-Saudi agreement is fraught with obstacles, making its short-term realization unlikely.